- Associated Press - Monday, July 28, 2014

Telegraph Herald. July 27, 2014.

Branstad’s nix of solar grant disappointing

“I think the state of Iowa has the potential to be the leader of renewable energy.”

That was Gov. Terry Branstad in 2011. Branstad said he believed alternative energy development could be the key to bringing to fruition two of the governor’s main goals: Bringing 200,000 jobs to Iowa by 2016 and increasing family income by 25 percent.

Then in 2012, Branstad signed bipartisan legislation supporting key solar energy technologies. The legislation created tax incentives for research and development in the area of solar photovoltaics, or solar PV, and solar thermal technologies like solar hot water - both clean and reliable forms of energy that match well with Iowa’s energy needs.

In the fall of 2013, the Iowa Economic Development Authority was excited to announce its energy office had landed a $1 million three-year solar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. “Iowa should be at the front of the pack” in solar energy, the governor declared.

Then sometime this spring, Branstad’s enthusiasm for solar energy wilted. The Branstad administration surrendered the $1 million grant.

What explanation did the governor give at the time for rejecting a million dollars to help achieve the goals he had been talking about for years?

None. In fact, until journalists with the Associated Press requested emails on the subject under the open records law, no one in the Branstad administration even acknowledged the grant had been sent back to Washington.

Development Authority Director Debi Durham, with the support of Branstad, approved the decision to terminate the grant on April 8.

Guess what April 9 was?

That’s right, it was Iowa Solar Day, an annual event sponsored by Iowa’s Solar Energy Trade Association celebrating the state’s progress implementing solar technology. Branstad told the solar advocates gathered at the Statehouse, “I see tremendous potential for growth in solar energy as I do in other renewable energy in our state.” He didn’t mention the fact that his administration had just sent back a $1 million grant supporting that effort. That might not have gone over too well with the Solar Energy Trade Association.

It doesn’t go over well with the people of Iowa, either. Branstad’s reputation has been that of a straight-shooter, but he missed the mark here. First of all, the state really should be working on expanding alternative energy sources. When the state turns down money to help that effort, it looks like the governor is just paying lip service to renewable energy advocates while secretly placating the big utilities. The emails obtained by AP reveal just that - a chilly response from the Iowa Utility Association was the precursor to rejecting the grant.

The secrecy is even more troubling. Branstad typically can be counted on to “own” his opinions and explain his actions, whether or not people agree with him. That didn’t happen here.

This grant would have been a perfect fit for the city of Dubuque. With all the city has done to position itself as a sustainability leader, Dubuque was a natural to be a pilot site to expand solar installation. City staffers were ready to work with the state.

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